From the Art Hut – the weather is part of the team…

By Karen Wallis

This watercolour of incoming clouds represents my love affair with Orkney skies, together with weather, as a constant feature of the excavations.

On my first day as an Artist in Residence, I arrived on a day when rain had cancelled all digging. The next day there was a lot of water to be bailed out of the trenches. 

Although I did not know it my arrival had coincided with a bad patch of weather, with high winds. I had been told to expect all four seasons in one day, so it was no surprise to see billowing tarpaulins being hastily pulled over the structures as the rain approached and then removed just as quickly once it had passed. 

The winds that brought these constant changes in the weather also made wonderful shifting patterns in the sky.  One afternoon I was collecting colour notes as part of the material for development back home in my studio, and painted these four watercolours of clouds in quick succession. 

A few days later, I saw a cloud sitting on the hill as I drove to the site and rushed to get my paintbox out as soon as I arrived, to try and capture its strangeness.

This fast work reminds me of some of Turner’s sketchbook colour notes and Constable’s little plein air oil sketches on cardboard. It is clearly impossible to emulate their work but I can at least channel their spirit in my efforts to seize the moment. 

That first season I only used watercolour, but in subsequent years I have also used oil.  One of the advantages of using oil is that work can continue in the rain – unless it is a downpour, in which case the paint starts to slide on the surface. On the other hand with watercolour rain can play havoc, although the effect can be quite interesting…

It may seem that my attention to the weather is a distraction from my stated purpose of concentrating on human activity. However it is the backdrop to everything that happens on site, and has played an important role in developing the film of my project.

A short clip of film can be seen on Vimeo at, with a commentary by Jo Bourne that states the importance of the weather.

Prints of Karen’s art are now available to purchase, with £5 from every sale donated to the Ness of Brodgar excavation fund.

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